If you want to know whether Moscow might have leverage over President Trump—including potentially blackmail-worthy information that the Russians have patiently gathered over decades of dealing with the billionaire New York real estate magnate—a good person to ask is Diana Pilipenko of the Center for American Progress. Pilipenko spent years working for one of the Big Four accounting firms studying fraud and money laundering, especially in relation to Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, and now she’s turned her gaze to Trump’s Russia connections. In February, she compiled a lengthy report on the topic, and spoke about it in an interview with The Nation.
For months now, it’s been obvious what Trump fears most about the Russiagate investigation. Last July, he told The New York Times that any effort by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, to look into his finances or his family’s finances (read: Jared Kushner) would cross a “red line.”
This week, echoing Trump, a senior Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence insisted on staying well within the president’s red lines. Playing dumb in response to demands from HPSCI Democrats who want to get records from Deutsche Bank, the German behemoth that paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for laundering dirty Russian money, Representative Mike Conway declined. “I don’t see the link at this stage,” he told CNN, when asked about looking into Trump-Russian business and financial dealings. “Deutsche Bank is a German bank—I don’t see the nexus.… I bet every big bank has a Russian customer somewhere.”
The House committee, which is paralyzed now thanks to the antics of its chairman, Representative Devin Nunes, isn’t likely to get very far digging into the money trails left by Trump and his family, including son-in-law Kushner. But that hasn’t stopped Mueller, along with other prosecutors, as The Nation reported in December, from trying to pry information from Deutsche Bank and elsewhere. Thanks to his indictment of Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager—along with deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, who’s now cooperating with Mueller—on charges of bank fraud and money laundering, we can be reasonably certain that the special counsel isn’t going to worry about any red lines declared by the president. Indeed, Manafort’s pattern of corrupt ties to pro-Russian oligarchs in Ukraine is a possible source of additional Russian leverage over Team Trump (and the connection between Russian oligarchs and Republican politicians—including John McCain—is an old story, one The Nation reported on in depth nearly a decade ago).